Cul­tural history

The peop­le of the area have lived with the sto­ne as an asset in all ages. The tab­le mountain lands­cape, with its geo­lo­gy, has pro­vi­ded good con­di­tions for humans to establish them­sel­ves in the area. The fer­ti­le soil and the flat lands­cape were opti­mal for cul­ti­va­tion and lar­ge viking farms emer­ged. The vari­ous rocks of the tab­le mountains were soon disco­ve­red to be raw mate­ri­als with many uses.

Mega­lit­hic tombs

Gigan­tic boul­ders in memo­ry of the dead

Mega­lit­hic tombs (from Gre­ek mega = lar­ge and lit­hos = sto­ne) are the oldest man­ma­de structu­res in Swe­den. Two thirds of the country’s mega­lit­hic tombs can be found in Fal­byg­den (an area around the city of Fal­kö­ping in Väs­ter­göt­land), which is also one of nort­hern Europe’s lar­gest con­cent­ra­tions of mega­lit­hic tombs from the Neolithic. 

The most pro­mi­nent and monu­men­tal structu­res in the Fal­byg­den lands­cape are the approx­i­ma­tely 250 pas­sage tombs, dating to around 5300–4700 BCE. They are asso­ci­a­ted with the so-cal­led Fun­nel­bea­ker cul­tu­re and are scat­te­red around most of Falbygden’s limesto­ne pla­teaus, but somewhat con­centra­ted around Kar­le­by, Fal­kö­ping, and Gök­hem. This type of tomb can also be found in seve­ral parts of Euro­pe, Asia, and Afri­ca. The lar­ge con­cent­ra­tion of pas­sage tombs and cists in Fal­byg­den has tra­di­tio­nal­ly and histo­ri­cal­ly been – and still is – an impor­tant cha­rac­te­ristic for the area, gai­ning local, regi­o­nal, natio­nal, and inter­na­tio­nal atten­tion. The vision is to build a cent­re for the mega­lit­hic cul­tu­re somewhe­re in Fal­byg­den. Until this becomes rea­li­ty, Fal­byg­dens Muse­um fun­c­tions as a mega­lit­hic centre.

Text sour­ce: Fal­byg­dens Museum

Tree of Life slabs and staff cross slabs

In a time when Christi­a­ni­ty was still young in Swe­den, noble­men, kings, and the church fought for power and influ­ence. The power strugg­le was a game whe­re the play­ers were com­pe­ti­tors but also depen­dent on each other. Among the local eli­te in the wes­tern parts of Göta­land, it beca­me a custom to have sand­sto­ne gra­ve slabs made with pictu­res of crosses, Tre­es of Life, and trailing plant ten­d­rils. They dis­play­ed the sta­tus of the noble­men and they have come be known as Tree of Life slabs and staff cross slabs.

Christi­an buri­al sites, sto­ne chur­ches, and lavish gra­ve monu­ments show how impor­tant the local church and its site were to the soci­al and poli­ti­cal ambi­tions of vari­ous groups. The mate­ri­al of the Tree of Life slabs as well as the art­ful execu­tion of the motifs are evi­dence that the­se monu­ments were expen­si­ve invest­ments which only a few could afford. The spe­ci­fic execu­tion of each slab thus beca­me impor­tant in the framing of the soci­al sta­tus, values, and ide­als of the dece­a­sed and his family.

It is beli­e­ved that the Tree of Life slabs were made in a rela­ti­vely short peri­od of time during the Midd­le Ages, from the late 12th cen­tu­ry to the second half of the 13th cen­tu­ry. The staff cross slabs are somewhat older.

The­re are approx­i­ma­tely 530 Tree of Life slabs and staff cross slabs docu­men­ted in Swe­den, and a majo­ri­ty of them can be found in Väs­ter­göt­land, espe­ci­al­ly in the area around Kin­ne­kul­le and south of Lake Vänern. The occa­sio­nal sto­ne can also be found in the pro­vin­ces of Värm­land, Dals­land, and Bohuslän.

Some of the sto­nes also fea­tu­re wri­ting, eit­her runic or in the Latin alp­ha­bet, which con­nects the sto­ne to a cer­tain buri­al. Some­ti­mes we know the peop­le by name, such as Thorsten, Ødgerr, Ragn­hild, and Benedictus. The slabs are eit­her sing­le sto­nes or come in pairs with two sets of orna­men­ta­tion. Some peop­le have inter­pre­ted the doub­le sto­nes as mar­king doub­le gra­ves, for examp­le a mar­ri­ed couple, whi­le the sing­le sto­nes mark a sing­le buri­ed person.

The pictu­res of the Tree of Life and staff crosses are Christi­an motifs sym­bo­li­sing Christ and ever­lasting life after the Resurrec­tion. The­se motifs can be found in reli­gi­ous art in lar­ge parts of Euro­pe and the Midd­le East, but the indi­vi­du­al pictu­res and the way they were execu­ted in the­se sand­sto­ne gra­ve slabs are also an expres­sion of somet­hing per­so­nal and spe­ci­fic. In the are­as south of Lake Vänern, the­re emer­ged a gra­ve custom based in local tra­di­tions and ide­as whi­le also being a part of a Christi­an and eccle­si­asti­cal all-Euro­pe­an con­text of ide­as. The motifs can be seen as a result of encoun­ters between peop­le from dif­fe­rent parts of the world and inter­secting thoughts and ide­as. The execu­tion of the sto­ne slabs and their motifs show that the peop­le of the 13th cen­tu­ry, just like today, in many ways were part of a world that was much lar­ger than the pla­ce in which they lived and died.         

Text sour­ce: Vänermuseet

Sto­ne churches

In the 12th and 13th cen­tu­ri­es, Väs­ter­göt­land saw its first boom in sto­ne buil­dings sin­ce the mega­lit­hs of the Sto­ne Age. Seve­ral hund­red sto­ne chur­ches were con­struc­ted in a short time. Mas­ter buil­ders and masons arri­ved from Ger­ma­ny and Eng­land to teach the peop­le of Väs­ter­göt­land how to work the sand­sto­ne and limesto­ne found in the tab­le mountains into buil­ding sto­nes and sculptures.

The first chur­ches were built of raw limesto­ne and later of sand­sto­ne, care­ful­ly hewed into squa­re blocks. Wealt­hy ari­stocra­tic fami­li­es pro­bably fun­ded most of the pro­jects. The chur­ches beca­me a way to both ser­ve God and express the family’s wealth and sta­tus. The richest contractors could afford por­ches ador­ned with sculp­tu­res, and even a church tower.

The lar­gest medi­ae­val con­struc­tion pro­jects in the tab­le mountain regi­on were the cat­he­dral in Ska­ra and the abbeys in Gud­hem and Varn­hem. The Roma­nes­que cat­he­dral, richly deco­ra­ted with sto­ne sculp­tu­res, was finished in 1150. Most of the sand­sto­ne for the cat­he­dral was mined at Kin­ne­kul­le and Bil­ling­en, for examp­le in quar­ri­es at Gös­sä­ter, Brod­de­torp, and Gudhem.

Västergötland’s second boom in sto­ne chur­ches came in the 19th cen­tu­ry, as over one hund­red chur­ches were con­struc­ted between 1850 and 1890 on and around the Väst­gö­ta plain. Just as in medi­ae­val times, the­re were mas­ter buil­ders spe­ci­a­li­sing in chur­ches. Buil­ding a church was a joint effort by the parish far­mers, and the­re was surely a cer­tain amount of com­pe­ti­tion invol­ved, as the far­mers tri­ed to out­do the neigh­bou­ring parishes.

The role of the tab­le mountain lands­cape in the histo­ry of Sweden

A litt­le over a thousand year ago, the Vikings ruled the North. It was the Viking Age, but peop­le in Väs­ter­göt­land were alre­a­dy Christi­ans. We know this thanks to archae­o­lo­gists from Väs­ter­göt­lands Muse­um who have exca­va­ted Christi­an gra­ves in Varn­hem. And evi­dence sug­gest that it was a woman, Kata, who orde­red the con­struc­tion of the first Swe­dish sto­ne church, at Varn­hem. She was also the head of the near­by far­ming estate. 

Kata gård - Skeleton

Exci­ting disco­ve­ry at Kata gård

Kata Farm inclu­des the remains of both a lar­ge farms­tead and a Christi­an church in Varn­hem, at the wes­tern slo­pes of the tab­le mountain Bil­ling­en. The remains date to the time befo­re Cister­ci­an monks established a monas­te­ry here in the 12th cen­tu­ry. But peop­le have lived here for thousands of years: alre­a­dy in the 1870s and 1880s, remains were disco­ve­red which could be dated to the second cen­tu­ry AD. The name Kata Farm, however, is a recent one based on the pre­su­med owner of the farm in the ear­ly 11th cen­tu­ry, Kata. Kata’s lavish gra­ve, sea­led with an engra­ved runesto­ne, has been exca­va­ted. Kata was between 30 and 35 years of age when she died, 160 cen­ti­metres in height and of slen­der build. Rem­nants of the clot­hes she was buri­ed in have been found. Her teeth were in very good con­di­tion, wit­hout any signs of cari­es, infec­tions, or hea­vy wear and the ske­le­ton shows no signs of her having per­for­med hea­vy manu­al labour. Her gra­ve is the most lavish on the site and loca­ted right next to the church founda­tions. The con­clu­sion is thus that she was a very influ­en­ti­al woman who pro­bably owned the far­ming esta­te in Varn­hem toget­her with her hus­band Kät­til, a man which was disco­ve­red in anot­her gra­ve on the site from the same time. The inscrip­tion on Kata’s gra­ve reads: Kät­til made this sto­ne after Kata his wife sis­ter of Tor­gil

Ear­ly Christianisation

The archae­o­lo­gi­cal exca­va­tions in Varn­hem show that Väs­ter­göt­land was Christi­a­ni­sed no later than the 10th cen­tu­ry, i.e. ear­li­er than the rest of Swe­den. In the thousands of gra­ves sur­rounding the old sto­ne church, peop­le have been buri­ed wit­hout first being cre­ma­ted (as was the ear­li­er custom), and with their heads to the east and their feet to the west accor­ding to Christi­an tra­di­tion. The gra­ves are also sor­ted after soci­al sta­tus and sex: women were buri­ed north of the church, men to the south. The owner fami­li­es were pla­ced clo­sest to the church, whilst far­mers were pla­ced a litt­le furt­her out and thralls on the out­skirts of the ceme­te­ry. The­re are no tra­ces of cof­fins in the poo­rer graves. 

The oldest disco­ve­red gra­ves have been dated to the first half of the 10th cen­tu­ry, and the church crypt might be the oldest pre­ser­ved room in Swe­den. The walls of the crypt mea­su­re two metres in height and are made of local­ly mined limesto­ne. They were pro­bably con­struc­ted around the mid-11th cen­tu­ry. During the 12th cen­tu­ry, sto­ne chur­ches pro­li­fe­ra­ted in the area. The many sto­ne chur­ches can be inter­pre­ted as evi­dence of wealth and sur­plus from far­ming and catt­le, which in turn came from the rich and fer­ti­le soil in the tab­le mountains region.

Text sour­ce: Väs­ter­göt­lands Muse­um et al.

Indust­ri­al history

Pla­tå­ber­gen has a histo­ry of lar­ge-sca­le sto­ne indu­stry span­ning thousands of years. With Christi­a­ni­ty follo­wed the art of sto­ne­ma­son­ry and eve­ry cen­tu­ry the­re­af­ter show examples of how sto­ne from the mountains’ dif­fe­rent lay­ers were used in chur­ches, gra­ves, houses, catt­le sheds, bridges, and many other con­struc­tions. Along the mountain sides, rows of quar­ri­es, scrap sto­ne piles, kiln remains, and red ash heaps are a con­stant remin­der of the tire­less work to cre­a­te somet­hing lasting. But some­ti­mes the­re is hard­ly a tra­ce of what once was.

Mas­ter masons sho­wed the way 

Fältugnar Ödegården

De störs­ta kalk­bru­ken hade näs­tan änd­lö­sa rader med fältugnar.

Expe­ri­enced mas­ter masons from Eng­land and Ger­ma­ny sho­wed the peop­le of Väs­ter­göt­land how the sand­sto­ne and limesto­ne from the mountains could be sha­ped into walls, arches, orna­ments, and figu­res. Kin­ne­kul­le beca­me an ear­ly cent­re for the sto­ne indu­stry sin­ce it had the best sto­ne. Mor­tar was nee­ded for the buil­dings, and it was often made on-site from limesto­ne in wood-fired kilns. During the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, alum sha­le began to be used as fuel in the kilns to con­ser­ve wood. The indu­stry also inclu­ded the cut­ting of mill­sto­nes, and so-cal­led Lug­nås mill­sto­nes beca­me a widely known term. The five alum works ope­ra­ting in the tab­le mountains regi­on during the 18th and 19th cen­tu­ri­es for­med an ear­ly lar­ge-sca­le indu­stry. Nowhe­re else were alum works as den­se­ly pla­ced as here.

With machi­nes and railroads 

When the indust­ri­a­li­sed soci­e­ty began to form in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, the demand for what the tab­le mountains could yield incre­a­sed – sto­nes for buil­dings, agricul­tural lime, and the new mate­ri­al known as cement. Machi­nes, new met­hods, and a fine grid of rail­ro­ads made it pos­sib­le to meet the demands. Mecha­ni­sed quar­ri­es deli­ve­red pro­ces­sed limesto­ne to the houses and insti­tu­tio­nal buil­dings of the growing citi­es. The bur­ning of limesto­ne was deve­lo­ped into an impor­tant indu­stry, focus­sing espe­ci­al­ly on agricul­tural lime. At its peak, some sixty lime works in the tab­le mountains regi­on answered for more than half of the country’s demand. Cement pro­duc­tion meant lar­ge and very expen­si­ve plants, yet two facto­ri­es were con­struc­ted in the area; one in Häl­le­kis and one in Sköv­de.   

A job for men

Flottans skifferoljeverk på Kinnekulle

Flot­tans skif­fer­ol­je­verk på Kin­ne­kul­le mitt under brin­nan­de krig.

Up until the indust­ri­a­li­sa­tion, bur­ning of limesto­ne and quar­ry­ing were sea­so­nal work that peop­le enga­ged in alongside far­ming. The moder­ni­sed indu­stry fea­tu­ring lar­ge-sca­le lime works, mecha­ni­sed quar­ri­es, and cement facto­ri­es beca­me a lea­ding indu­stry in the tab­le mountains regi­on, ope­ra­ting all year round and offe­ring paid employment. The work was hea­vy: well into the 20th cen­tu­ry all sto­ne was lif­ted by hand and on backs. It was a job for men, whi­le the women took care of things at home. In this age, it was not uncom­mon for strong boys to begin at the works even befo­re they finished school. Today, the lar­gest of the works in the regi­on is mana­ged by a woman. 

Ver­sa­ti­le rock 

Alum sha­le has been mined not only by the lime and alum works, but also for the extrac­tion of oil, radi­um, and ura­ni­um. Sha­le oil was an ear­ly alter­na­ti­ve to regu­lar petro­le­um and tri­als to extract oil from alum sha­le were made at Kin­ne­kul­le from the 1880s until World War II. The govern­ment then built a lar­ge refi­ne­ry at Kin­ne­kul­le to secu­re the navy’s demands for oil. And when radi­um beca­me a wea­pon in the fight against can­cer in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, a grand but utter­ly unsuc­cess­ful attempt was made to extract alum sha­le at Bil­ling­en. The most spectacu­lar attempt to mine alum sha­le, however, was the Ran­stad works near Bil­ling­en. The govern­ment wan­ted to secu­re a sup­p­ly of ura­ni­um for the Swe­dish nuclear wea­pons and nuclear power pro­gram­mes. The ura­ni­um depo­sit at Ran­stad was descri­bed as one of the lar­gest in the world but the short-lived pro­duc­tion cove­red only a frac­tion of the demand – whi­le the nega­ti­ve envi­ron­men­tal impact was huge.

“Folk­hem­met”, the People’s Home

Folk­hem­met was a poli­ti­cal con­cept, advoca­ted by the Swe­dish Soci­al Democra­tic Par­ty between 1932 and 1976, that envi­sio­ned the enti­re soci­e­ty as one big family. This con­cept encom­pas­sed all aspects of soci­e­ty and poli­tics, inclu­ding housing poli­tics. When the vision was set to become rea­li­ty, a lot of the buil­ding mate­ri­al came from Pla­tå­ber­gen: aera­ted concre­te, mine­ral wool, and cement. Aera­ted concre­te was pro­du­ced in facto­ri­es in Sköv­de and in the Fal­byg­den area under brands such as Durox and Ytong. All the facto­ri­es pro­du­ced so-cal­led “blue concre­te” using alum sha­le and limesto­ne as raw mate­ri­als. However, when the blue concre­te pro­ved to be a health hazard becau­se it con­tai­ned radi­um, pro­duc­tion was shut down. For many years, Rockwool had a facto­ry in Sköv­de whe­re mine­ral wool was manu­factu­red from dia­ba­se. The cement facto­ri­es in Sköv­de and Häl­le­kis also had full sche­du­les to meet the demands for the mas­si­ve pub­lic housing pro­ject known as the Mil­li­on Programme. 

An impor­tant resource 

The mountains are still an impor­tant resour­ce for the peop­le in the tab­le mountains regi­on. Bil­ling­en is a sour­ce of limesto­ne for the cement facto­ry in Sköv­de as well as a sour­ce of dia­ba­se for the mine­ral wool facto­ry in Häl­le­kis. The­se two facto­ri­es are the only two sto­ne indu­stri­es of sig­ni­fi­can­ce left in the regi­on. In seve­ral pla­ces in the mountains, the bed­rock is mined to be used as bal­last in asphalt and concre­te. Limesto­ne is also mined for agricul­tural pur­po­ses. Sto­ne as a natu­ral resour­ce will be nee­ded for futu­re pro­jects as well, and it is impor­tant to mine it as sustai­nab­le as possible.

Text: Eric Julihn